70-year-old Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, known by locals as Abu Omar, is an Aleppo native whose life and well-being has been ravaged by the Syrian Civil War.
Abu Omar was initially featured on AFP about a year ago for his meticulous collection of vintage cars and at one point had up to 30 in his name, part of which had been passed down from his father. At the time, he had lived in a rebel-controlled neighborhood and refused to leave his home while continuously caring for his collection day-in and day-out.
Upon returning to Aleppo after the government had taken back control over the city, Eid and AFP’s Beirut Bureau Chief Sammy Ketz decided to check back in with Abu Omar, who they were able to find with help from the residents of the eastern neighborhood of al-Shaar. During the visit, the AFP team was given a tour of his home, which was quite literally in ruins. They had stumbled upon his vinyl record player, which he said he still used frequently as it operated mechanically, without the need for electricity.
Omar told the reporting team, “I cannot listen to my music without smoking my pipe.” Once he had prepared his pipe, they sat amidst the rubble as he played one of his favorite records, an old Arabic song by Syrian singer Mohamed Dia al-Din. It was in this moment that Eid captured the striking photo of the Syrian man that touched the hearts of thousands throughout the world.
Amidst the impairment of the war, a third of his cars had been destroyed or stolen. Eid recalls him saying: “Nothing will break me or take me down or force me to surrender. Keep your spirits high no matter what.’” Bombs and terror may have killed the lives of many, but they can’t kill this powerful message of hope during dark times.
“I’m a war photographer and I’ve seen lots of atrocities. This one is different,” Eid said to PBS. “It talks about life.” Rather than the portrayal of despair that is typical for most war photos, this one shows a man of justified indifference to his surrounding suffering, who maintains a deeper connection to the smaller things that keep life worth living.
“He is so attached to his past and to the things that he always cherished and loved, and without them he will lose his identity,” Eid told Time. “That’s why he insists on staying and getting back his life again.”
The power of music is universal and provides a sense of transcendence from our troubles—big or small. Through the chaos and destruction of the war, Abu Omar clings to the comfort of his collection. In trying times, this is exactly why preservation of the arts is important not just within war-ridden countries like Syria, but for the greater welfare of humanity.
We often lose ourselves in the things we love, investing our soul in whatever feeds our will to keep marching forward. Whether through music, our collections, literature, or seemingly trivial sentimental trinkets, this is how we maintain our human spirit. This photo of Abu Omar and his record player give us a glimmer of inspiration during a time when it’s needed most.